Swimming in Lake Superior

Last week, after deliberating for months, I decided to sign up for the Superior Man Triathlon in Duluth. In the first leg of the race, you swim in Lake Superior. Yes! I love Lake Superior. I was born on it and spent the first four years of my life swimming in it, or yearning to swim in it. We moved away when I was four.

Before she died, my mom had several legendary stories that she liked to tell about me as a kid. One of those stories involved Lake Superior and how much I loved swimming in it. It didn’t matter how cold it was, I was ready to jump in. Every time we went back to the UP for summer visits, she would recount my crazy love for that freezing water. Since she died in 2009, I like to tell her story to my kids when we visit the Lake in the UP or on the North Shore of Minnesota,  bragging to them about how I, as a little kid, would happily swim in the icy water at Gay Beach or Lac La Belle.

That legendary story was only about Sara, age 4. Since moving away from Lake Superior, I frequently, almost annually, return to it, but I don’t swim in it. I hike its shores, climbing on the rocks at Hunter’s Point in UP Michigan and Two Harbors on the North Shore of Minnesota. I dip my toes in its beautiful water at Silver City near the Porcupine Mountains. And I walk and run on the paved paths on its waterfronts in Duluth and Houghton. But, in the over 36 years since moving away, I haven’t been as brave (or crazy) as I was as a kid, when I’d eagerly jump in whenever the air (not water) temperature rose above 70 degrees.

But now I’m 41 and I’ve signed up for a crazy triathlon in which you jump out of a boat in the bay at Canal Park and then swim a half of mile in Lake Superior. According to the race guide, the water temperature could be in the 50s. Wetsuits aren’t optional, they’re required. I’m nervous, but I’m also excited. I can’t wait to add onto the legendary story of Sara, the fearless little girl who loved swimming in Lake Superior.

Open Swim practice
Sara, age 41, open water swim in Lake Nokomis.